“People find meaning and redemption in the most unusual human connections.”~ Khaled Hosseini.
Language is a tricky thing. Even when you think you speak the same language, words may have very different interpretations. People from the English-speaking world have to learn to avoid saying ‘football’ when in America. If you live in the US, although not born there, when you travel home, even strangers know you live in the US the minute you start talking about soccer. And why do women in the US carry pocket books? Those handbags could never fit in a pocket!
Then there is the pronunciation. When I first moved to Florida I had to learn the American way of saying words like skeletal, cervical (in England, the middle syllable is stressed, with a long vowel), and if I wanted to blend in I had to make respiratory rhyme with lavatory (FYI, no one in America calls the rest room a lavatory). But if I ever wanted the whole room to fall apart laughing at me, I just had to say the word aluminum, (accent on the first ‘oo’) which in England is spelt and pronounced al-u-min-i-um.
Of course, thanks to my life story, I had already had to adjust when I moved from England to Jamaica as a child. Quite apart from learning the unique language of patois (patwah, Jamaica’s very own ever evolving language), even those who spoke ‘proper’ English used words I was unused to: a suitcase was called a ‘grip’. The dressing table was a ‘dresser’. But it was when I dedicated myself to learning patwah that the fun began. Little white girl saying ‘mi a nyam yam’ (I am eating yam) must have been a treat!
Apparently, the occurrence of different countries sharing a language but using words very differently is not unique to English. A Columbian in Mexico speaking Spanish may insult people by casually throwing a word into polite conversation which the Mexicans use as a profanity. The other day I heard that there is a word ‘ahorita’ which to Mexicans mean ‘right now’ while Cubans take it to mean ‘later’. You can imagine the confusion when that word is introduced into the conversation! Jamaicans have many interesting ways to say ‘Later’. Those who move to Jamaica have to adjust to phrases like ‘Soon come’ which usually means anything but soon! But the concept ‘later’ is itself confusing. In the US ‘Later’ is a throwaway line which means any time in the future. To some it means later today.
Language is, of course, our main means of communication. Our ability to communicate silently has increased over the past decade by the cell phone and texting. With texting and other forms of social media we have now created a whole new way to confuse and miscommunicate. New accepted abbreviations have popped up. We LOL, or indicate our emotions with happy/sad faces, emoticons, emojis, and other shorthand designed to get our message across as efficiently and quickly as possible. They say the art of conversation is dying. In fact, there is now research to support that with these easy means of connecting we are more disconnected than ever.
When you are the mother of teenagers (it has been a while for me!) you find yourself introduced to the foreign language of music you did not grow up to. Sometimes (if you are lucky) you find that music you loved as a teen makes a return visit, and you are ecstatic to find your teenage daughter listening to Al Green along with the harsh lyrics of rap. This week I listened to the poet of the 90’s, Tupac Shakur. His song of encouragement to women of all ages ‘Keep your head up’ is as relevant today as when it first came out. Woven into his message lyrics were lines from an old Nina Simone song; ‘Oo-ooh child, things are gonna get easier’. Tupac’s song crossed music genres, generations, gender and ethnicity to have relevance today, in a world where we are once more discovering that despite our advancements, the world is full of abusers of power against women.
I have been reflecting upon what brings us together. We have to bridge gaps, overcome language barriers and miscommunications to find our commonalities. The human condition is universal. What happens to me is not unique, others have had that same experience. We share common goals and dreams and emotions. But in order to know this we have to reach across divides, and relate to someone who may not look like us or talk like us. We have to be prepared to be surprised.
Thankfully there are many who do just that, who ignore barriers to make a difference in the life of another. There are points of light to remind us that light and love are needed to dissolve the darkness. I still remember my first view of a tropical night sky. I had never seen so many stars! My father had awoken me to take me up on the deck of the ship that was taking us from England to Jamaica. I was somewhat embarrassed as I was wearing my nightclothes and a bathrobe that doubled as my beach coverup. But the memory of that sky, awash in stars, the milky way a swath of cream in the dark velvet night has stayed with me.
On this cool Friday morning, I hope that you can be one of those points of light, those reminders that it is when things are darkest that our light shines the brightest. And may you make a connection with someone who needs it,
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!